Invasive Species Compendium

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Abstract

Disentangling the multiple effects of stream drying and riparian canopy cover on the trophic ecology of a highly threatened fish.

Abstract

Understanding risks to aquatic systems posed by changing drought regimes is particularly important for the conservation of already threatened taxa. However, little is known about how local environmental conditions, especially those in heavily human-influenced situations, interact with regional shifts such as droughts to alter realised impacts on aquatic communities, including threatened top predators. Here, we investigated the combined effects of stream drying intensity and riparian canopy cover on the trophic interactions of critically endangered kōwaro, or Canterbury mudfish (Neochanna burrowsius) in an agricultural area of New Zealand. Fish populations and their potential prey, both terrestrial and aquatic, as well as environmental variables, including riparian canopy cover and drying measured with stage loggers, were sampled over eight visits to 24 sites spanning orthogonal drying and canopy gradients. Stable isotope ratios, 13C/12C and 15N/14N, were used to investigate trophic links between mudfish and their terrestrial and aquatic prey across these gradients. When non-native willows (predominantly Salix fragilis) dominated the riparian canopy, increased tree cover led to elevated drying intensity, probably driven by their relatively high water demands compared to other trees. However, in the absence of willows, canopy cover had no effect on drying intensity. Although this was the only direct link between these two environmental factors, they had opposing effects on kōwaro populations, which will be important for management under drought. Increased drying intensity contributed to elevated abundance of microcrustacea and aquatic Diptera larvae, and an increase in the relative abundance of kōwaro juveniles. However, drying-affected kōwaro populations also had fewer large reproductive adults and elevated δ15N values, probably driven by physiological limitations and an increase in kōwaro cannibalism, respectively.By comparison, increased canopy cover enhanced input of terrestrial invertebrates, a food resource for larger kōwaro, leading to elevated kōwaro δ13C values, no effects on δ15N values, and higher relative abundance of large kōwaro in shaded streams compared to unshaded streams. Thus, the riparian canopy cover was able to offset some of the effects of drying. Overall, we found no interactions between drying intensity and canopy cover affecting kōwaro. However, their opposing effect highlights the important role local conditions such as riparian canopies play on aquatic communities and their potential role as a restoration tool to mitigate the effects of large-scale shifts such as drought.